Don’t be afraid: your talents and abilities are needed and you are eternally loved.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 33 A
Texts: Matthew 25:14-30
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
So the third slave turned out to be right.
When given a share of money to care for in the master’s absence, he buried it. Because he was afraid. Afraid, as he said, that his master was a harsh man, and would take any profit from whatever hard work the slave put in.
But he had no idea how harsh. He didn’t commit any crime. He gave back every penny he received, in full. And the master threw him into the “outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
It’s a terrible story. And somehow you and I are supposed to learn something about God’s reign.
Can we make any sense of what Jesus is saying?
We could see it from a perspective that doesn’t make the returning master a stand in for the Son of God. There are interpretations from impoverished people that see Jesus as the third slave who refuses to go along with the capitalist oppressor.
But the context makes that hard to claim. Matthew 24 is a long discourse on the surprising, unexpected, and inevitable coming of the Son-of-Man at the end of time, ending with a parable about faithful slaves who are ready for their master’s return. These next three parables in chapter 25, with a bridegroom, a master, and a king, are told in that context, assuming they’re Christ. Let’s proceed with that assumption.
Some suggest Matthew added the judgment parts to these parables, that Jesus doesn’t act on them after Easter because he never said them. But there’s no way to prove that. No one recorded Jesus. So Jesus could have said these parables in their entirety, including judgment. Which means something happened that changed Jesus’ mind, that is, changed the mind of the Triune God. So, let’s proceed with that assumption, too.
And there is precedent for this in Scripture.
There are plenty of places in the Hebrew Bible where God is angry and wants to punish God’s people and decides not to. The best known is when God, in the wilderness, tells Moses the people of Israel have disobeyed too often and will be destroyed. Moses will become the new Abraham, the father of a new people. Moses tells God that would be a bad look, to take your people into the desert and kill them. And God relents.
So it’s possible that Jesus, as he got closer and closer to the danger against him, was angry and frustrated at his disciples’ mistakes, and maybe even their unwillingness to serve. The letter to the Hebrews says Jesus was tested exactly as we are, that’s how he is able to help us. Jesus could have considered punishing the unfaithful. We certainly would.
If that’s so, then Jesus did change his mind. We’ve been looking at these parables with an Easter lens, understanding them from the perspective of the risen Christ, who doesn’t act on these judgments. But there’s another point of view to consider, a different set of lenses, that could enlighten us as to what happened.
Go to the Mount of Olives, to a garden called Gethsemane.
Jesus, the Son of God, God-with-us, praying while his followers lie asleep, makes a critical decision. It wasn’t a foregone thing that he would choose what he called “the cup” before him. That is, to allow himself to be captured, tortured, and killed.
There is much mystery here for us. This conversation happens within the life of the Triune God, between Jesus the Son and the One he called Father, so this is fully a God decision to make. It was anguished, it was hard. But in the end, Jesus chooses a path. In the language of this parable, Jesus decides “I will go myself into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. I won’t send anyone there. I will bear the eternal love of God with which I created all things and let them kill me on the cross, and it will destroy all outer darkness, all hate, all evil, at its core.”
In the end the Son of God chooses to go the place of pain and suffering and death to transform the world. To open the reign of God by the love of God taking on all evil and breaking it.
So you can trust Christ with your life now and forever.
And this parable becomes like the others: a simple invitation to those whom Christ loves to follow. To live in God’s reign and continue bearing the love of the Triune God into all the places of pain and suffering and death.
To use your talents you’ve been given, your gifts, your wealth, your abilities, to make a difference in the world. This story is nothing more for you, no threats, no fear. Just a call to use your gifts that you’ve been given to be Christ in the world, and not bury them.
That includes your wealth. Today we’re pledging to each other what we will share for the ministry we’re doing together here at Mount Olive in 2024. We’re not pledging to the Vestry, or to the congregation as an institution. We’re saying to each other, “here’s what I will share so we can be Christ here, together.”
And it’s more than wealth. Talents were a unit of currency, but for us they are also gifts and abilities, and we also gladly share them.
There’s one more lovely thing.
This parable is one of Jesus’ patented hyperboles. One talent was about $500,000 of our money. So the first one got $2.5 million dollars to use. Jesus’ hearers couldn’t have imagined anyone with that wealth. Could you imagine being given a half a million dollars to care for and use for good? And that’s just one talent.
So if you think your talents, abilities, wealth, gifts, are far less valuable than others, listen again. You’re sitting on a fortune. You are central and critical to God’s work in this world. You might be the one person in the right place at the right time who makes a world changing difference to another person, or even beyond, as we share our ministry. And that’s priceless to God.
Don’t be afraid.
There is no outer darkness, no weeping and gnashing of teeth. That decision was made in Gethsemane. Christ Jesus has ended that threat forever. You are safe in the love of the Triune God now and always.
So what will you do with your talents, your wealth, your gifts, when you live unafraid?
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen